Marc A. Thiessen

Washington D.C.

 Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor. 
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MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Sept 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Sept 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- A Columbia Journalism Review poll released this year found that half of all Americans have "hardly any confidence at all" in the media, which beat out even Congress as the institution for which the public has the lowest confidence. It's not hard to see why. Last week, CNN reported that the CIA was forced to pull a highly placed source inside the Kremlin because of concerns that President Trump might burn him -- when it turns out the decision to extract the source was made before Trump took office because of leaks from senior Obama administration officials.

Now, The New York Times has published an adapted excerpt from a new book by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly in which they breathlessly describe a "previously unreported story" about how Max Stier, a male college classmate of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, notified senators and the FBI that he saw Kavanaugh expose himself to a girl at a Yale party and that "friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student."

One small problem: In the book, Pogrebin and Kelly write that the female student in question "refused to discuss the incident" and that "several of her friends said she does not recall it." That calls the entire allegation into question. Yet the Times did not include this vital information in the excerpt it published.

Pogrebin and Kelly conveniently blamed their editors for the omission. Why didn't they insist it be included when they reviewed the story before publication? And how then do they explain the fact that they also failed to mention it in an interview with NPR? When asked by Terry Gross the specific question "Are there (BEG ITAL)other women(END ITAL) who have come forward?" (emphasis added), they repeat their uncorroborated accusation without mentioning that this "other woman" not only did not come forward but also does not recall the incident.

The Times was later shamed into appending an editors' note to the story saying "the book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information has been added to the article." Too little, too late. This is simply journalistic malpractice. Indeed, if prosecutors in a court of law were to do what the Times did -- fail to disclose evidence that goes toward negating a defendant's guilt -- they could have their case thrown out and face potential disbarment for prosecutorial misconduct. But apparently in the court of public opinion, anything goes.

That's not all. In their article, the reporters innocuously describe Stier as someone "who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington." They fail to share with readers in the story the fact that Stier was a member of Bill Clinton's legal team at the same time that Kavanaugh was working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr on the other side of the Monica Lewinsky investigation. That seems relevant information that could call his motives into question.

Amazingly, the Times story leaves out the one truly newsworthy revelation in the book. During the Kavanaugh hearings, Leland Keyser -- whom Christine Blasey Ford named as a witness to her alleged assault -- never testified, but her lawyer wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee that while she "has no recollection of the incident in question ... she believes Dr. Ford's account." In their excellent book, "Justice on Trial," Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino first broke the news that Keyser told friends she did not in fact believe Ford. But Pogrebin and Kelly got Keyser to speak on the record for the first time. "It would be impossible for me to be the only girl at a get-together with three guys, have her leave, and then not figure out how she's getting home" she told them, adding "I just really didn't have confidence in the story." She also said she was pressured by many who "wanted me to remember something different" and threatened "behind the scenes that certain things could be spread about me if I didn't comply."

For some reason, the Times did not find this news fit to print -- perhaps because it strengthens the case that Kavanaugh was smeared. The only thing more shameful than the Times's irresponsible reporting was news of all the Democratic presidential candidates who seized on the Times story to call for Kavanaugh's impeachment. In light of Keyser's comments, they should be apologizing to Kavanaugh instead. And if the media wants to understand why it has surpassed Congress as the least-trusted institution in the country, here is a textbook example.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- Here's some advice for the media covering President Trump: If you don't want to be accused of reporting fake news, don't report fake news.

Case in point: On Monday, CNN correspondent Jim Sciutto reported that a highly-placed U.S. intelligence source inside the Kremlin was pulled "in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy." Sciutto continued, "The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. ... [that] had been provided by Israel."

Sorry, the decision to extract the source was first made before Trump took office, and the reason was mishandling of classified intelligence not by Trump, but by (BEG ITAL)the Obama administration(END ITAL). As The New York Times reports this week, "C.I.A. officials worried about safety made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russia." What prompted that decision? Leaks to the media about the covert source's reporting that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally ordered and orchestrated Russia's election interference campaign.

The impetus for the extraction decision was a December 14, 2016 NBC News report that "Two senior officials with direct access to the information" said Putin personally directed Russia's election interference and that "the intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said." NBC added that this new intelligence showing Putin's direct involvement went much further than the information the U.S. was relying when all 17 intelligence agencies issued a report in October holding Russia responsible for the DNC hack, and that "now the U.S has solid information tying Putin to the operation."

This leak exposed the fact that the CIA had a spy in Putin's orbit who was passing on intelligence about the Russian president's decision making. Who leaked the information? Two senior Obama administration officials. The Times reports that Obama CIA director John Brennan considered the Kremlin source's reporting "so delicate, and the need to protect the source's identity so important," that he kept his reports out of the President's Daily Brief (PDB) sent them to Obama in "special sealed envelopes to the Oval Office." The PDB is already one of the most restricted U.S. government documents, so the sealed reports were restricted to an even smaller circle of senior Obama aides. Yet the leak, according to NBC, came from officials "with direct access to the information." Which Obama aide leaked it? That is for U.S. attorney John Durham to find out, but this much is certain: It was not Donald Trump.

It was after this Obama administration leak that the CIA decided to pull the source. The reason he was not actually pulled at the time is that he initially refused -- a decision the Times reports raised concerns that "the informant had been turned and had become a double agent." Eventually, the source changed his mind. But the decision was made before Trump came to office.

That's not all. CNN falsely reported that the source was pulled after Trump's meeting with Russia officials in which he shared intelligence on Syria that was "provided by Israel." But as I pointed out in May 2017, Trump did not reveal to that Israel was the source of the intelligence. That classified information was revealed to the Times by what the paper described "a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information." Any former official familiar with that intelligence was from the Obama administration. So this leak also came from Team Obama. Even Brennan, the Obama CIA director and virulent Trump critic, admitted that Trump was not to blame and said that "the real damage to national security is ... what was leaked in the aftermath, what was put in the media."

So, CNN tried to blame Trump for the loss of Kremlin source, when it was really the Obama administration that was responsible for the catastrophic leaks that burned him -- and did so citing a leak that did not come from Trump at all, but most likely from a former Obama official. Talk about fake news! Yet despite all this, CNN has not pulled its "fake news" story. Indeed, Sciutto still has it proudly pinned at the top of the Twitter feed. What a disgrace.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- Imagine if, back in 2011, President Barack Obama had not only withdrawn all U.S. forces from Iraq, facilitating the rise of the Islamic State, but also invited Islamic State leaders to Camp David to sign an agreement cementing his withdrawal plan. Obama's decision to pull out American troops was catastrophic, but even he was not dumb enough to seek a photo op with terrorists. Yet this is precisely what President Trump tried to do when he initially invited the Taliban to Camp David for a meeting this past weekend.

Here is the image that would have been broadcast across the Muslim world: Taliban leaders sitting at the very table where U.S. officials planned the overthrow of their regime, accepting what they would have portrayed as the terms of the United States' surrender -- right before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The propaganda victory for the Taliban would have been enormous, sending a message of U.S. weakness and emboldening terrorists across the world.

It gets worse. The Taliban team with whom the Trump administration has been negotiating includes five senior Taliban commanders -- the "Taliban Five" -- who were held at Guantanamo for 13 years before Obama freed them in exchange for U.S. Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. They include Mullah Fazel Mazloom, who according to his Guantanamo military file is "wanted by the UN for possible war crimes while serving as a Taliban Army Chief of Staff" and has "operational associations with significant al-Qaida and other extremist personnel." They include Mullah Norullah Noori, "wanted by the UN for possible war crimes" and "associated with members of al-Qaida." They include Abdul Haq Wasiq, Taliban deputy minister of intelligence who "utilized his office to support al-Qaida and to assist Taliban personnel elude capture ... [and] arranged for al-Qaida personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff in intelligence methods" and "assigned al-Qaida members to the Taliban Ministry of Intelligence." They include Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, who was "directly associated to [Osama bin Laden] and Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Muhammad Omar." And they include Mohammad Nabi Omari, "a senior Taliban official" who was "a member of a joint al-Qaida/Taliban [anti-coalition militia] cell in Khowst and was involved in attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces," including one that killed two Americans.

These are murderous terrorists with American blood on their hands. It is an outrage that Obama freed them. But for Trump to even consider allowing leaders of a designated terrorist organization to set foot in Camp David is worse than an outrage; it is an insult to all those who died on 9/11 and the American troops who gave their lives fighting them in Afghanistan.

It was only the Taliban's brutality -- launching a suicide attack that killed an American service member on the eve of the Camp David summit -- that prevented this debacle from unfolding. After the attack, Trump canceled the summit and tweeted, "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?" Terrorists, Mr. President -- that's who.

Trump's defenders say this would have been no different from his diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, or his offer to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Yes, it is. First, Kim and Rouhani are heads of government. Taliban leaders are terrorists. They (BEG ITAL)claim(END ITAL) to be the heads of a state -- the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Hosting them at Camp David grants them undeserved legitimacy.

Second, in the cases of North Korea and Iran, Trump is acting from a position of strength. He has imposed crippling sanctions on both regimes. With the Taliban, he's negotiating from a position of weakness. He wants to get out of Afghanistan, and the Taliban knows it. A peace deal would not be a victory for the United States; it would be a victory for the Taliban.

The administration claims that the Taliban had agreed to break with al-Qaida and prevent them from reestablishing a haven in Afghanistan. The Taliban made the same promise in the 1990s, before 9/11. After the attacks, its leaders were given a choice: Break with al-Qaida, or lose your regime. They chose to lose their regime. The Taliban will never break with al-Qaida.

By killing an American soldier, Taliban leaders were rubbing the United States' defeat in Trump's face. That move backfired. Trump now says the Taliban talks "are dead." Let's hope so -- and that with the death of those talks dies one of the most shameful moments of the Trump presidency.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

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Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor.
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